Kobra Audio Labs - Sparse, Elegant Aural Dystopias
"I think I'm Scottish hip-hop, but a lot of B-boys might disagree"
Kobra Audio Labs is the studio moniker of reclusive production genius Mark Scanlan. Secreting himself somewhere in the midst of the Lanarkshire countryside, he has spent years refining his dirty, lived-in sound. With beatwork that would make DJ Shadow tremble at the knees, his sample-based collages of acoustic instrments, found sounds and rough beats create a sparse and elegant chaos similar to the aural dystopias of the RZA. Kobra Audio Labs outclass the bland funk fripperies of much instrumental hip-hop with ease. Recently released on his own Dumb Hero Records, 'Sunshine, Shadows & Luck' is waiting to be discovered by a wider crew of headz.
How long have you been producing music, and how would you describe your sound?
I've been doing it for years, since I was a kid. It was really folks like Tricky, Public Enemy and Wu-Tang Clan who influenced me when I first started, so the music comes out a bit like them, I suppose. Noisy, a bit shambolic, hopefully original.
You write and record in Wishaw. Is the surrounding environment a big influence on you?
I don't think so. I lived in Motherwell years before, and in glasgow until a few years ago. The music hasn't changed much. I live in a quiet, more rural area now, rather than the East End. I think the music is getting a bit more song-based, but I'll always make stuff with beats & noises too.
How did you first get into producing music?
It's been so long I don't really remember - I'm knocking on a bit, y'know? I've always played music, either with people or alone.
Some of your song titles have a political slant or theme, and are largely instrumental. Is it important that your politics comes across in the music, and specifically the titles?
Well they might sound political but only one is really - We Have the Strength But We Don't Have the Will. Its kind of political, and about apathy, but it's more of a reflection on historical stuff like the World Wars, the Spanish Civil War, the Miners' StrikeÃ‚Â… Its hard for me to break it down. Whatever it is, the title is the opposite of the sound of the music, which sounds like it's on its last legs. War All The Time isn't exactly about military warfare, it's nicked from someone else.
Do you plan to collaborate with vocalists and MCs in the future?
The next few things I'm working on will have more vocals in them. More singing than rapping, but that's only because I don't know any MCs. If Justin Warfield's out there, he can get in touch. I'm planning to record with my pal John singing in the next few weeks, that might be a separate thing from the KAL stuff though. I'm planning to use a new studio, Foundry Music Lab, which friends have just opened in Motherwell, so it gets me out of the house.
Is there such a thing as Scottish hip-hop?
Of course there is. I just don't know a lot about it. I've bought STS, Gael Force, Penpushers, and David Jack's records, and I've heard stuff on the radio, but it's not something I hear a lot of. I think I'm Scottish hip-hop but a lot of B-boys might disagree.
You run Dumb Hero Records yourself - any other signings or projects in the works?
I have got an idea of what I want the next release to be, but I have to get over the first one first! Its going to be called 'Tones, Drones & Broken Bones' & will be an EP of guitar tones and hip-hop beats, kind of like a cross between My Bloody Valentine, Mogwai & El-P. Future plans include remixes I'm doing for Abacus Roolz, who have an album out soon, and who used to play around Glasgow as Liminal with Brendan O'Hare, plus Neil, their singer, will be singing on some stuff too. Kobra Audio Labs, Abacus Roolz, The Porch Song Anthology (ex-Telstar Ponies) and Chris Rainier (Australian musician who played on Abacus Roolz' records) have banded together to form another label, which will take care of digital stuff, like iTunes, Napster and so on. we might also put out a compilation, but its early days yet.
Give us a brief history of the Kobra Audio Labs project.
It started in glasgow in 2001, I put out one CD-R in 2003 which was mostly ignored. I put out another CD-R in 2004 which was pretty well-received but I never followed up on it. I hung out with my wife and son for a while, played the guitar, then, encouraged by my sister, I decided to put together an album. Some are older tracks re-made, some are brand new. So far so good, people seem to be positive about the record and I'm happy with how it turned out.
Any live dates or releases you want to plug?
We have been trying to work out how to do it live. I've stuck up a live rehearsal snippet on the website (www.kobra-audio.co.uk), which I likeÃ‚Â… it's not very sophisticated but that's no bad thing. I whittled it down from about 23mins to a healthy 8. There will be a remix of American Teeth somewhere on the internet soon. It's called The White Whale, and it was done by myself and John.
Who is the tune Stay up All Night (And Talk Shit With Me) about?
It's about my wife… it's also about that feeling you get when you don't want a night to end. It's not necessarily romantic, it can happen with your pals too.
Anything further to add?
If Ghostface or Mogwai would like a remix I'm available.